The Art Connection — Part 2

SPECIAL GUEST POST: This is Part 2 of an inspiring talk presented by Linda Hart Green, one of the principals of The Shady Ladies Art Gallery on 8th St, in Fernandina Beach. Click here to see Part 1.

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We also internalize messages about who we are and what we are supposed to do from others. As someone trained to understand people and organizations from the perspective of family systems theory, I encourage you to spend time reflecting on the patterns of communication and relationship in your family of origin.

There we will find both the seeds of our inspiration and the weedier messages both overt and subtle that can impede our artistic vision. My family has a very strong work ethic and there is nothing wrong with that. But I did not learn much about when it was OK to stop and rest or play and that such time was equally valuable. Our deep Protestant roots added a strong sense of the imperative to serve others. There is nothing wrong with that either. But does one serve others at expense of the self?

Those of us who came along in the wake of the Greatest Generation of WW II and those who were reared by those who came through the tribulations of the Great Depression may especially have to wrestle with internal questions like, “Is being a writer a selfish pursuit? Is painting a real job? We have also heard it said in our presence sentiments like: “Poetry is nice but it doesn’t feed hungry people.“ The arts are for those with leisure time.” You can add your own messages to this list. We each have to do the work of integrating our backgrounds, our life experiences, our family responsibilities with our internal yearnings. We are our best selves when we first honor our deepest longings and are true to our own hearts.

I ask your indulgence as I give you an example using theological jargon! It’s my occupation hazard! One’s “espoused theology” is what one says one believes. One’s “operational theology” is what one’s life says about what one believes.
For most us, getting espoused theology and operational theology to line up with each other is a life’s work. We have to practice what we preach!

True spiritual maturity is the integration of the two. I had to realize that while I preached that all are equally loved and accepted by the Holy One, I acted toward myself like I had to work to earn that acceptance. I preached that we are each co-creators and that creating honors the spark of the divine in each of us but making art wasn’t OK for me. The preacher had to bring her espoused theology and her operational theology into alignment or…start practicing what she preached!

I would love to be able to tell you that my creative journey has been a straight line of growth and success for the last 20 years. Truth is, I went back to the pastoral ministry full-time and full-tilt in 1999. At first, I took time to take some classes but then I let my schedule be crowded by other responsibilities. I set up a room in my parsonage, but it fell into dust and disarray. I dabbled with art in fits and starts. I injected the arts wherever I could into the life of my congregation. But there was more work for me to do. I had another profound shift ahead of me.

By this time, it was 2005 and I had weathered the storm of a church fight and a divorce and had met and married Harry, a Unitarian minister! Scandal! I was really kicking up my heels. We went together to our ministry and career counseling center to discuss our future life together. There I was blessed with another caring person important to my journey.

My counselor told me that I was ignoring the artistic side of who I was at my peril. Every test, every exercise, every question and answer session pointed to the fact that I was as much an artist as a minister. With that encouragement, I began to reintroduce art into my life. Seven years later, I took another leap of faith and retired early and we moved here. At first, I made art at home and worked for several other artists on the island. Last year, my 3 other art partners and I opened our own place, Shady Ladies Art Studios.

I am indebted to many for inspiration along my creative journey. Some names you know like Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way workbooks. A theologian I want to mention is Matthew Fox. Those of Roman Catholic background may know of him and that he is a controversial figure who was censured by the Vatican and removed from the Dominican order. He is now an Episcopal priest and prolific author and teacher. In 2002, he wrote a systematic theology of creativity, entitled: “Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet.

He is known for reimagining the biblical stories and teachings in a way that shows that they speak of humanity’s original blessing, not original sin. From that original blessing flows our passion to co-create along with the divine.

He writes that it is the task of artists and writers to lead not only ourselves and our communities but also all of CIVILIZATION by growing our hearts, deepening our compassion, and calling out what is unjust and ugly. Artists and writers are the ones who can help guide others through perilous times of cynicism, boredom, and despair. (written in 2002!) Even more true today!

Thank you for allowing me to share some of my personal and professional journey with you, my fellow creative people! Our mediums may differ, but I can affirm to you, from my own experience and from what I have learned that you are made with original blessing! You are here to see with open eyes and open hearts and open minds. The world needs to know what you see and to benefit from what you create in response.

As you write, may you be filled with the energy and joy that comes from participating in the flow of creativity that permeates the whole world.

The Art Connection -- Part 1

The Art Connection — Part 1

SPECIAL GUEST POST: Not long ago, Writers by the Sea, the local chapter of the Florida Writers Association, was treated to a talk by Linda Hart Green, a member of the Shady Ladies art co-operative. She spoke about the connections between creating visual art and writing. She graciously agreed to share her thoughts with us.

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Naomi Shihab Nye is a Palestinian-American poet who began writing her own poems at the age of 6! She is often asked how she became a writer. She put her response into a poem entitled, “Please describe how you became a writer:”

“Possibly I began writing as a refuge from our insulting first-grade textbook. “Come, Jane, come. Look, Dick, look.” Were there ever duller people in the world? You had to tell them to look at things? Why weren’t they looking to begin with?” ”

My guess about you is that no one has to tell YOU to look at things! My guess is that you have been looking all of your lives. You know no other way to be in the world. Looking brings you both joy and pain. But you will not turn away. Feeling the need to look and to record what you see is why you write and why I paint! Those of us who are compelled to look wish we could take a break from it. Turn it off for a while. But we know that price of NOT looking is too high. We want to see the world in all its beauty, diversity, humor, irony and pain.

Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at but what you see.” What is the difference between looking and seeing? When you see, are you fully present in mind, body, and spirit? When you look, are your eyes working, but your mind is several steps behind or several steps ahead of where you are?

For artists and writers, that just won’t do. Poets and artists need to be fully present to what they see so that they can be awake to connections, analogies, and metaphors that help explain and to give meaning to life’s journey. This kind of seeing can bring needed insight to a difficult situation or it can take something simple and see in it a thing of transcendent beauty.

A poet who is a well-practiced seer is Mary Oliver. In her book of essays, “Upstream,” she recounts her lonely and difficult childhood. She took refuge in nature and in the world of literature and writing. Her lifetime of quiet and patient observation in nature has opened deep insights that ring true.

In her poem, “When death comes…” she sums up her life’s goal: “when it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.” Writing and the visual arts connect in their creators’ desire to be married to amazement! To not take a single thing or a single day for granted. We want to see those things that bring us an “aha” moment or cause us to draw in our breath.

If we allow cynicism, anger or indifference to what we see dull our amazement and shut us down, then we forego the opportunity to contribute an insight, observation or story or image that the world can have only through us and only if we share it. Only if we share it. It is one thing to see. It is another thing to put what we see “out there.”

Here is another point of commonality between artists and writers. We desire to put what we see “out there.” “Out there” can be very scary. Self-disclosure involves risk. We have to detach from our desire for approval, recognition, and credit and become immune to rejection. We have to validate our own vision and learn to accept constructive criticism. That is so difficult! When you have a drawer full of pink slips or a closet full of paintings that were not accepted to shows, it is tempting to withdraw into a cocoon of self-protection.

NOT giving voice or vision to what we see is also scary. We risk squelching that spark that makes us each uniquely who we are. When the temptation to withdraw comes as it will, we can tackle it by focusing on process over product. Process over product. We can find enjoyment in the act of creating not just the results. Morning pages, doodles, poems in the margins, sketches and silly rhymes are all part of the process.

In 1995, after twenty years in the professional church ministry, I came to a point in mid-life and mid-career where I really felt the need to do something radically different. Sure, I had put myself out there as a woman in a profession traditionally dominated by men, but I had not given my artistic desires any room to breathe and grow. I had always loved art and had always drawn and done creative projects but I had not fully blessed those inclinations with devoted time and practice. As happens with many, I had let my career take over my life.

After a year of contemplation and planning, I resigned my job which at the time was as a regional consultant for our denomination with the 300 Baptist churches in Massachusetts. I took an unpaid personal sabbatical and returned home to New Jersey with my former husband.

All but my closest friends were shocked. “What about your career track? You will have a gap in your resume,” they warned. All those voices wanting me to change back were very loud. You have heard them too. I needed to heal from my overwork and begin to correct the perfectionist tendencies that constantly told me I needed to do MORE. Instead, I needed to listen to my deepest inner voice that said, “You are enough.”

I left my unopened moving boxes and practically ran to sign up for my first art class. At that first class, I got out my new supplies, put my paper on my easel and FROZE. I just sat there immobile, staring at that blank pad of drawing paper. I imagine all of you know exactly how I felt.

I will never forget the kindness of that first teacher. My fragile new art self could have been dead in the water at that moment in the hands of the wrong person. That kind of life-draining teachers or “shadow artists” as Julia Cameron calls them in The Artist’s Way are out there and we have all run into them. But this teacher did not scold or scoff or berate.

After giving our instructions, he casually walked around the class. He saw my dilemma and came up behind me and quietly whispered in my ear, “Start.” What a gift! And…I did! Of course what I drew was tight and didn’t nearly fill the page. And I erased a lot. Over the next weeks and months, as I did the exercises he taught and started to feel less self-conscious, I could relax more, take more risks and start feeling the freedom of learning new ways to record what I see.

As writers and artists, we need to overcome our hesitancy and simply start! We can’t feel worse than we already do! I got better at seeing and recording what I saw, too. I had doubted my ability to make my hands create what my eyes saw. My vision in my left eye is poor due to a birth defect and I have terrible depth perception. I felt embarrassed about it as a child who wasn’t good at sports and ashamed when I was a klutzy teenager. How could I be an artist? We all have internal messages of self-doubt that we mentally rehearse. We can let them hold us back and define us or we can put mental brackets around them and stop listening to the negativity.

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Linda Hart Green is the Shady Lady pictured on the far right. Part 2 of her article will be published here soon.